The Interstate Massage Compact Improves Portability and the Profession

Remember how challenging it was to build your massage practice? Would you relish the thought of repeating that journey?

Some of you may not have a choice. You could move to a different state because of a spouse’s job transfer, return home to care for an aging parent or for health reasons, or just to pursue a new lifestyle. One of the downsides: saying goodbye to a nurtured clientele and starting over in a new community. Skills and experience can travel with you anywhere, but starting your practice over is no walk in the park—especially when new regulations factor in.

In 2011, ABMP and the six other national massage organizations—what came to be called the Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations (“Coalition,” for short)—assembled to identify key aspects of massage practice that were candidates for improvement. Entry-level education content and portability emerged as the top two opportunity targets. The Coalition aimed to work by consensus, with different organizations taking the lead on different issues.

ABMP took charge of creating a major project to identify the skills and knowledge that should be included in a core massage education to prepare someone to practice safely and effectively. A companion piece of the project was to assess how many hours this core education should require for a capable instructor to impart this knowledge. The collective result was the Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP). ELAP recommended entry-level curriculum guidelines of “approximately 625 hours.”

Not every Coalition member agreed with every item in the 350-page ELAP blueprint, yet all seven Coalition members signed on to a December 2013, eight-page summary, the “Statement of Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations.” ELAP subsequently informed revised, entry-level educational requirements in several states and was incorporated in Model Practice Act Guidelines created by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

By contrast, 10 years later, the portability issue remains unsolved. But there is new hope for at least a beginning partial solution.

The Interstate Massage Compact (IMpact) is a legislative effort sponsored by the US Department of Defense and Council of State Governments in conjunction with FSMTB. The IMpact legislation was developed by a Technical Assistance Group of 25 individuals from all massage therapy arenas—educators, licensees, regulators, and representatives from FSMTB, ABMP, and the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

The legislation is an imperfect but important first step in solving the portability issue. According to the massage therapy compact language: If you’re licensed, have 625 hours of massage therapy education (including CE), have passed a national examination, have had no disciplinary action against you, and have a clean background check, you may temporarily move from one compact state to another without application forms and fees, and can avoid long wait times to receive a new state license. You can also lessen the hiatus between practicing in your former and new residence states.

The IMpact requirements were established to ensure that practitioners who have the opportunity for multistate practice comply with standards to ensure safety and competence. Requirements and standards protect the profession and the public from unqualified imposters and human traffickers. It’s important to note that practitioners can alternatively always apply to each individual state to obtain a license. IMpact reduces obstacles to obtaining licenses in multiple states.

Think about your driver’s license—you can drive in Delaware, Virginia, Colorado, and California without needing to get local permission. Why is that? Because states have come to a compromise about what is needed to be able to drive in every state, even if it varies from what’s allowed in your state.

That’s what the IMpact will do for massage therapy. Of course, it isn’t perfect. Had ABMP (or FSMTB or AMTA) been the sole author of the legislation, it may have looked different in various ways. The net result may be palatable (hopefully), but some may not wish to look too closely. The IMpact was not written to the specifications of any particular organization or stakeholder; it was designed to ensure opportunity to practice in other states without excess transition regulatory burden, while respecting the existing (if inconsistent) regulatory environment for massage.

ABMP supports the IMpact because we believe in the mantra “perfect is the enemy of good.” There are approximately 320,000 massage therapists in the US. The overwhelming majority will likely never have to navigate the IMpact requirements to practice in another state. But progress as a profession matters, and enacting an interstate compact is an important step forward as a profession. Those who need or want to practice in other states—especially those moving to a state with more rigorous standards than that of their “home” state—will value the opportunity to obtain permission to practice in additional states with relatively minimal effort.

We believe the responsibilities of a leader include a willingness to collaborate and compromise. This is why we continue to support the IMpact effort.

Our colleagues at AMTA do not support IMpact in its current form. We think that’s short-sighted, and as the saying goes, “misses the forest for the trees.” ABMP works for you, and we believe supporting the IMpact serves the profession. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to move the massage profession forward, even if that requires flexibility and compromise. We hope our colleagues will do the same.